Maputo — Mozambican doctors have threatened strike action throughout the national health service, unless the government makes a satisfactory response to their demands by midnight on Sunday.
The strike threat appeared, in unsigned form, on the Facebook page of the Mozambican Medical Association (AMM), the body that claims to represent the country’s doctors.
The AMM’s basic demand is for what it calls “a decent basic wage” for doctors in the public sector. “We are approaching the deadline for the wage negotiations, but things are not going well”, said the AMM statement.
It said that on Friday the AMM “received a wage proposal from the government which, in our opinion, is an absurd and obvious assault on the dignity of doctors. The proposal includes a reduction in the basic wage. This being the case, the strike will begin at 07:00 on 7 January”.
But the AMM gives no precise details of the content of the government’s alleged offer.
The statement declares that on Monday only doctors working in the emergency services should go to work. “There will be no street demonstrations and the doctors scheduled to work on emergencies will guarantee minimum services”, it added.
The strike will only be called off, it added, when the wage demand is met, and when the government proposal is accepted in writing by the AMM chairperson.
The strike was initially announced for 17 December, but was postponed while negotiations continued between the AMM and the government. Then, the AMM also demanded the approval of a Statute of Doctors, in line with the Association’s expectations, and the allocation of state-owned housing to doctors. The AMM complained of discrimination in favour of foreign doctors in the allocation of housing. The AMM objected to a circular issued by the then Minster of Health, Ivo Garrido, in 2008, which limited the amount of time that doctors can live in state housing. As a result, several doctors had been evicted, the AMM claims.
The government made concession on the housing issue, and the Health Ministry announced "the doctors can return to the houses as before".
The Statute of Doctors was approved by the government in November, but the AMM claims that doctors were not consulted. The Statute will now be rewritten and the new version should be ready by the end of March.
This was enough for the AMM to suspend its strike threat. But on the third issue, that of doctors' wages, a huge gap remained between the two sides. In December. the AMM demanded a basic wage of 90,000 meticais (about 3,030 US dollars) a month, while the government's proposal was for wages ranging between 20,000 and 38,000 meticais a month.
At a Friday evening press conference, Health Minister Alexandre Manguele warned that the government simply does not have the money to pay wage increases on the scale that the AMM is demanding.
Manguele also found it odd that the AMM negotiating team include doctors who do not work in the national health service, but are already earning vastly higher wages in the private sector, or in NGOS. Manguele added that the government remains open to dialogue to solve the doctors’ problems, and urged all health professionals to put their trust in the Ministry of Health, and “to maintain calm, commitment, dynamism and creativity in solving the health problems of Mozambicans”. He hoped that doctors in the public sector, who “were trained in the country at the cost of the sweat of the people”, would ignore the strike call and go to work as normal “aware of the sacrifices made by the users of the health service so that the doctors could be what they are today”. The AMM is not alone in claiming to represent doctors. The legally enshrined “Order of Doctors” is taking a less radical position, and calls on the AMM and the government both to make concessions. The President of the Order, Aurelio Zilhao (a former Health Minister), said “It’s a delicate problem, but should make concessions, or arrange discussions so that some problems are solved now, and others are timetabled for the future”.
Zilhao insisted that continued dialogue was a much better option than going on strike.